The Real Truth About Artificial Sweeteners

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“Grandma, STOP!” shouted my grandson as he entered the room.  “Stop what?” I asked.  “Grandma, don’t drink that diet soda, it will KILL you!” he exclaimed.  “It’s full of aspartame!  I heard on the news it’s really, really bad for you!”

Well, it is true.  I heard something about that on the news also.  Somewhere, someone had the idea that artificial sweeteners are bad and can cause cancer and that your body can not identify the product and therefore causes all sorts of crazy things to happen to you. 

As a food and nutrition director,  I’m here to say, artificial sweeteners are safe.  They are some of the most studied and reviewed food ingredients in the world today and have passed rigorous safety assessments.  The fact is, all approved low-calorie sweeteners can be safely consumed by people with diabetes, pregnant women and children. 

I will tell you, there is one acceptation to this fact.  People suffering from a condition called phenylketonuria (PKU).  This is a rare hereditary condition in which people with PKU can not metabolize phenylalanine, which is a component of aspartame.  All products containing aspartame must carry a statement warning people with PKU of the presence of penylalanine on the label.

Ah, you say!  So there is a harmful “chemical” in aspartame.  The answer is NO.  Aspartame is made up of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine.  When aspartame is consumed, it’s broken down into these amino acids and a small amount of methanol in your body.  All these components are naturally found in several foods, including fruits, vegetables, meats and eggs.  

As for aspartame staying inside your body and the body will reject the “chemicals” causing all sorts of problems, truth is,  it is rapidly broken down in the small intestine.  The 3 components mentioned above, are found in much higher quantities in other foods that we eat every day.

There have also been rumors that artificial sweeteners can cause cancer.    Truth is, the National Cancer Institute has concluded that aspartame and other artificial sweeteners do not cause cancer, even among individuals with high aspartame intakes.

What is a high aspartame intake?  Let’s just say, you don’t have anything to worry about and IF you do take in more than the ADI allows, you have bigger problems!  Why do I say that?  Because, the Acceptable Daily Intake determined by the FDA is based on the highest amount a person could have EVERY DAY FOR THEIR LIFETIME without harm.  The equation is based on body weight, then divides it by 100.  Aspartame is 50mg/kg of body weight.  Example, a 165-pound person would have to consume more than 107 packets or 19 cans of soda everyday for a lifetime.  Most people consume less than 10% of the ADI.

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I’ve heard those that say, artificial sweeteners can cause food cravings and weight gain.  Research is still out on that, but, to be honest, is it the sweetener or human will power?  Let’s say, you’ve been eating crackers and diet soda for a couple of days as you try to lose weight, but then, you see a chocolate cake or that big sweet roll and binge.  Is it the sweetener drawing you to those things or the lack of healthy eating?  Whatever the case may be, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

The good news is, you don’t need to freak out about artificial sweeteners.  Since they are as much as 200 to 600 times sweeter than sugar, you only need a tiny bit in your food compared to the CUPS of sugar.   We all know that sugar is the number one cause of type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.   

Now that you know a few of the facts, the choice is yours to make.

Healthy eating!!